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The dangers of saltwater to pets

Young man’s dog loses consciousness, suffers seizures after intake of too much sodium

Posted: November 3, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 3, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Occy, a 6-year-old border collie, plays in the ocean before he was struck with saltwater toxicity.

 

We have lived in Santa Clarita since 1967 and have always had dogs. They have always been a big part of the family, going with us and participating in most everything we did. I guess this would make us dog lovers.

We recently had an experience with my son’s border collie I felt needed to be shared.

I want other dog owners to avoid the trauma we went through.

As the summer came to a close — and with the Labor Day weekend winding down — my son took his 6-year-old border collie named Occy to the beach. He and Occy had been to the beach many times before.

My son loves to surf so Occy grew up as a Southern California beach-loving dog.

What we were unaware of was the silent killer that has always been there, waiting in the ocean waves.

My son and Occy got to the beach and did what they have done their whole lives, Jeremy surfed and Occy waited on the beach — occasionally playing in the water.

Believe it or not, it’s the playing in the water that’s the silent killer.

As Jeremy came in from surfing, he noticed that Occy was not jumping in excitement to be with his master, instead he had lied down and was not able to get up.

Jeremy got to him just as Occy became completely unconscious. My son took Occy in his arms and started running down the beach to his truck. Arms burning like fire, he said he had never run so fast.

By the time he reached the truck, Occy started to have seizures. He laid Occy in the truck and drove home as fast as possible.

It was 6 p.m. Monday, summer was over, and my wife and I had just had dinner and were sitting down. We were talking how fast the summer seemed to slip by (the older we get it seems to slip by even quicker) when Jeremy came through the back gate with Occy in his arms.

He was still breathing, and we could feel a weak pulse.

We threw him in the car and headed to Valencia Veterinary Clinic. I drove like a skilled ambulance driver as Jeremy sat in the back comforting and talking to Occy trying to keep him breathing.

We went to a place that was simply the best possible place we could have gone — not by design, but because of a flier we had received in the mail.

I know most of those fliers hit the round can but for some reason this one did not.

As Jeremy ran though the door with Occy still in his arms, they immediately took over. I had never in my life seen a team of people take charge and go to work on an animal like this.

There were at least four staff members and a veterinarian all doing what they do. As we stood there still not knowing what caused this, the night shift veterinarian, Dr. Caruso came in and started asking questions. She asked the question that led to the most likely diagnosis of saltwater toxicity.

We were astounded that this could be true, but after doing some research, we believe she was right on the money. She knew exactly what to do, and there was no time to waste.

As Jeremy and I left Occy that night we knew he would receive the best care he possibly could at the hands of the most skilled professionals. This was comforting but we both had a sick feeling in our stomachs.

That night I called the clinic at 2 a.m.

They informed me that Occy had suffered seizures throughout the night, but they had seemed to get them under control. As I hung up the phone, I just knew he was not going to make it through the night.

I went back to bed, but the sadness overwhelmed me as I could not bear to tell my son that his best friend did not make it.

My son had already seen tragedy in his life. When he was 18, he lost his best friend in a car accident. I knew how hard he would take the loss of Occy.

I did not receive a call that night, so we went to the clinic early in the morning. Occy was in very bad shape, but made it through the night. It was going to be touch and go for some time, and there was no way to know if he was going to make it.

We learned that saltwater toxicity raises the sodium level so high that the brain swells. In most cases, it’s fatal, but Occy was still alive.

As Occy fought for his life, he was not alone. Again, the staff at Valencia Veterinary Center was dedicated to saving his life. What staff member did not realize was they were saving my son’s as well. They were so nice and made a very difficult time easier. We would go there three times a day and just lie with Occy, I felt like I lived there.

On a Saturday morning five days after the event, I made my morning visit to see how Occy was doing. I was glad to see that he was doing better every day. At the time, we were not sure what permanent brain damage may persist or if Occy would ever be the same, but it did not matter. What mattered was that we could look forward bringing him home.

We knew that Occy would need a lot of rehab work. Surviving severe brain trauma is one thing, but rehabilitating is another. But we felt lucky that we would have the chance to help Occy recover as fully as possible.

I can’t tell you how many people take their dogs to the beach as we did for all these years and never had a problem, but it only takes once.

There is no doubt that Dr. Caruso, Dr. Arron and theirstaff saved Occy’s life. All pet owners need to be aware of the dangers of not just saltwater toxicity but water toxicity as well. Please educate yourself so you do not have to go through what we did. We felt we were one of the few lucky ones.

Editor’s note: As staff of The Signal were preparing Occy’s story to run in the Paw Prints section of The Signal we received the following email from Joe Howton:

“Occy died this morning (Oct. 23). He fought so hard and will be missed more than I can express. Please let other people know about this so they can avoid the same. Occy died after battling the effects of saltwater toxicity. It helps knowing he did not just die without saving other dogs and dog owners the unbelievable pain we all went through. He will never ever be forgotten!”

Joe Howton is a resident of Castaic.

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